“Get Closure—Now, Damn It!”
The dreaded 3 of Swords Tarot card, usually signifying grief, betrayal, loss, and/or sorrow. Photo credit by Raelene G; attribution license
room with me, most of them backed away, not knowing what to make of my very public breakdown. We were all there for a 2-hour training session on the new Justification and Approval Guide from Part 7 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and yet I was on my knees with my face in my hands. Nothing had ever gotten to me at work quite like what had happened a few mornings before, and nothing has shaken me like that since. At least not at work.
Luna sat down next to me and shooed away the only people curious enough to come near. “Lorna,” she said, “what is WRONG with you? I’ve never seen you cry at work. Well, except for that one time.”
The one time she referred to was when my dying mentor had spoken to me for the last time, describing in detail the kind of casket he was to be buried in. I had sat at my desk with tears in my eyes, wiped them away, and then had marched off to negotiate a $40M deal with as much professionalism as I could muster. A woman may occasionally rage in my kind of career, but crying is generally taken as an overt sign of weakness. But on this day in the conference room? I didn’t care.
I told Luna what had brought me to my knees.
“Lorna,” she said, “that was a week ago. Why haven’t you been able to shake it off by now?”
I didn’t know. I’d been through a fair number of tragedies in my life and kept right on moving without a glitch in my stride. I’d worked with a broken back and I’d worked while in labor.
I’d finished several business deals while waiting for my daughters to come home from final exams so we could drive out of state to my dad’s funeral. I’ve written work documents from an ICU waiting room so that we could get Lot 14 of the AMRAAM missile awarded on schedule. My personal life has rarely brought a halt to my professional life. But something about the situation from the week before struck at the core of my sense of fairness and justice.
When I was a little girl, my parents and my Sunday School teachers told me that Good always prevails over Evil, that Right always beats out Wrong, and my sense of justice was strong. Justice was balance to me. Not that bad things didn’t happen, but when they did, the scales would be balanced. Justice would win. Everything turned upside down would be righted.
My belief in justice changed into an overwhelming need for it beginning on a mid-May morning when I was 11 years old. That was the year the Alday Family was murdered in Donalsonville, Georgia. The year I stopped believing that Good always wins and that justice will be done.
I lived in the small town of 4,000 in rural South Georgia where everybody knew everybody, including the hard-working farm family. The news rocked the town in a way much like 9/11 and watching those planes fly into the Twin Towers rocked New York City—six members of the community, including the pretty 25-year-old wife who was raped, tortured, shot, and left to die in an ant hill in the woods, had been murdered by escapees from a Maryland prison camp. In a town of that size, most people personally know the sheriff, the coroner, the locals who scour woods for a rescue. I was 11 and heard details from these men talking about the size of bullet holes and the condition of Mary’s body and all of the horror replaying in my head—as impossible to escape from as it was later for me to keep my own children in September 2001 from seeing repeated plane crashes on TV, on newspapers, or overhearing it at school or in the grocery store. It permeated my little world, and every time, I got a great understanding of what Evil can do to Good and how helpless Good can be sometimes.
Most people remember where they were when the planes hit the Twin Towers…or when the Challenger blew up…or when JFK was shot. For the people in Donalsonville, they remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news about the Alday murders.
Though the ring leader of the 4 murderers boasted publicly of what he’d done, he became the longest-serving inmate on Death Row. I watched a series of trials that financially damaged my hometown and led to the same results each time. I watched major newspapers in Georgia and around the country invade my hometown and frequently rally around the murderers, outsiders to a hick community like ours. Even though the ring leader was finally executed 30 years after the crime, I as a young teen saw only the series of legal wrangling and nothing of justice. My hometown meanwhile lived in fear that he would either escape or be paroled because he’d said in an interview series:
“I’d like to get out and kill more of them. They represent the type of society I don’t like. I didn’t know them, had never seen them before May 14, but I didn’t like them. Working people don’t do a damn thing for me.”
That was the shadow I grew up in, one of injustice and fear of retaliation. For a child and a young teen—if not for most adults—there’s an extreme sense of helplessness that comes with that.
It was that same sense of injustice and helplessness that hit me that morning in the conference room, and I couldn’t shake it.
“Lorna,” Luna said, “you’ve got to get over this. You can’t work like this, and we need you.”
“It’s not that easy,” I tried to tell her. “What happened brought up a lot of issues for me, and I can’t just get over it instantaneously. I need to work through. I need…closure.”
She leaned into my ear and whispered, as she tugged me into a chair, “Then get closure–now, damn it!”
Over the years, I’ve often read where the supporters of murderers wonder why the family and friends of the victims can’t just get over it, move on, forgive, find closure. Occasionally, I hear of family and friends who reach a place of forgiveness and even step in to become strong advocates for the very person who took away their most precious loved ones. I applaud people who are able to do that because they’ve reached a place of closure, of balance. They’ve found their justice in some sort of way and can release the all-consuming hold that such pain of loss can have on a person. However, it’s not for me to demand that of anyone and I very much dislike when supporters of criminals insist the victim or victim’s family and friends just get over it. It’s not their particular pain, it’s not their particular journey, and it’s not their place to expect it of anyone else.
I have no idea if the Alday family–what was left of them–found closure 30 years after they lost their loved ones. I wish sometimes that a sociologist would come in and look at the long-reaching effects the mass murder had on people in the community. I know that for myself, I did feel some very small sense of justice when the ring leader himself was finally executed, even though he’d been on Death Row longer than two of his victims had been on this planet. Just memories of those days of my childhood still stir me deeply, and I’ve spent those 30 years and more searching for some way to balance all the bad things that happen in the world, looking furtively for evidence of justice out there.
Finding closure is very much like working through grief. It cannot be done according to a one-size-fits-all calendar. It can’t be demanded or insisted upon or forced. It has to come in its own time.
It doesn’t have to be a murder, a rape, or even anything remotely resembling a crime in order to open a tremendous wound that will need to be closed. In fact, I don’t think that kind of wound can even be closed–it has to close on its own, and that takes however long it takes.
In my case, what had happened at work the week before had been devastating even though no one knew exactly why, including me. But the need for closure isn’t reserved just for major crimes. I’ve seen small betrayals between friends, husbands cheating on wives, women who recall being molested by relatives, colleagues passed over for promotions–you name it. All very personal, very deep wounds, and sometimes not so much for that particular wound as for the re-opening of a very old one that was never worked through. Those who don’t live with those particular wounds, however similar a wound might be to their own, will often demand the wounded party face the facts that what’s done is done, deal with it, and move on–tomorrow, if possible.
It’s too bad we never know with a wound if we’ll find closure that week or six months later or decades later. We can pray over it, we can do ho’oponopono releasing rituals, we can go to therapy, but closure will come when closure’s good and ready. For me on that day in the conference room, I pulled myself together and made my way through the rest of the week’s meetings on auto-pilot. I didn’t break down publicly again, but the turbulent emotions and the repeated attempts to achieve closure were going on underneath my mostly calm exterior. For months. And months. And months. And months.
One day something happened. I was tired of carrying that open wound and guarding it so it wouldn’t be picked at, and bumping it or nicking it without meaning to. I didn’t like that open wound but I didn’t know how to make it go away. But I set my intention to find closure. I was ready to release it in a different way than I’d been ready before–or thought I’d been ready. Within two weeks, I found a way to bring my life back into balance in that area. Within another two weeks, I found some justice. What had been upside down turned right side up, and it happened very, very quickly. Literally overnight. I admit, I am astonished that closure, when it came, arrived so quickly and completely. That’s not a timeline to be enforced for anyone, by the way, including myself. That’s simply a statement of how closure finally came.
Though I will always, as a result of seeing the injustice of the Alday murders as a child, feel an overwhelming need for justice and a balance of forces, I know that all is well in the particular area of my life that was devastated at work that week. Justice has been done. Balance has been achieved. The scar is still there, but the wound has closed, healed. I feel light, happy, gloriously alive and full of passion and mended and…so very content.
Who knows? Maybe in time, even the scar will fade.